Habitat Hustle

The Habitat Hustle is a variation on Sharks and Minnows that teaches students about the many stressors animals face in the wild. In Sharks and Minnows, players (i.e. “minnows”) run from one end of a field to another trying not to get tagged by the person who is “it” (i.e. the “shark”). If they cross into the safe zone at the end of the field, usually past some designated marker, they are no longer allowed to be tagged. Anyone who is tagged becomes a shark in the next round and the game is played until one minnow is left.

In the Habitat Hustle, minnows run not to one safe zone but to several “habitat patches.” These can be sheets or towels or hula hoops laid out on the ground — anything that clearly delineates a safe zone. Each patch only has room for a designated number of minnows. Once that number is reached, no other minnow can use that habitat patch to avoid being tagged.

In addition, minnows are not tagged by only “sharks.” The players in this role can choose to be one of many stressors that may affect minnows in the wild, including sharks or other predators, threats to water quality, or fishing. Before each round, players should say aloud what stressor they are. Some might say crazy things like “dinosaur” or “giant tarantula.” Depending on the age group, challenge players to think of threats that may actually affect wild fish populations. At the end of the first game, choose a different species than minnows to get players thinking about how different species experience different stressors. What might affect fish might not be so important to robins.

For an added challenge, after each round add limits to the number of minnows allowed on each habitat patch or take away habitat patches all together. This helps players think about how limited resources affect animals in the wild and how loss of habitat ultimately leads to population declies.

At the end of the game, have a conversation with players about whether or not they think it would be tough to be an animal in the wild, and how we could change the game to make it harder or easier. Challenge students to connect the game to how our actions affect wildlife.